Mudcrutch (Reprise Records, 2008)

Mudcrutch was a band that formed in Gainesville, Florida in the early seventies. Fronted by singer/bassist Tom Petty, Mudcrutch based their sound on the later recordings of The Byrds, which combined traditional folk and country with hard-edged rock. In addition to Petty, the original band featured the dueling guitars of Mike Campbell and Tom Leadon, with drummer Randall Marsh completing the quartet. By the time the band headed to Los Angeles in 1974 to pursue a record deal, Leadon had been replaced by another guitarist and Benmont Tench had been added on keyboards. They released one single in 1975, but that was as much interest as they could generate. Mudcrutch quickly disintegrated, and the band members crawled their way back to Gainesville. Petty would not be deterred that easily, though. He traded in his bass for a jangly electric 12-string, formed a backing band called The Heartbreakers which included (and still does include) Campbell and Tench, and went back to L. A. to try his luck a second time. The rest, of course, is history.

You might think that the story of Mudcrutch would have ended there, and for thirty-two years you would have been right. But Petty has, on a number of occasions over the past twenty years, stepped at least a little bit away from The Heartbreakers as his whims have suited him. At some point last he year, he decided that he wanted to make the kind of album Mudcrutch would have made. The idea eventually morphed from making an album that sounded like Mudcrutch into having the album actually performed by Mudcrutch. Campbell and Tench were recruited easily enough, but I have to think that Leadon and Marsh were taken aback by the initial phone call.

The album, simply titled Mudcrutch, does have a bit of a throwback feel to it, starting with the traditional American folk standard "Shady Grove" and continuing with a combination of vintage classic rock with a few country songs thrown in for good measure. The album differs from a typical Petty album in several ways. There are several covers, most notably The Byrds' "Lover of the Bayou," and Petty lets both Leadon and Tench take a turn singing lead on the album. The double lead guitar sound on the band's harder rock songs also distinguishes Mudcrutch from what The Heartbreakers generally have done. The band even engages in an extended but subdued jam on the nine-minute song "Crystal River." The performances are strong throughout the record, and Leadon and Marsh hold their own very nicely with three much more experienced professional musicians.

Given those qualifications, Mudcrutch is still dominated by the singing and songwriting of Tom Petty. And that is a good thing, as this is the best Petty album since Wildflowers in 1994. The particularly strong track "Scare Easy" is an obvious single. A lot of Petty's albums are a little too uniformly mid-tempo rock, but this album has an excellent mix of harder and softer songs. In fact, the more energetic songs come across as a breath of fresh air, and Petty sound generally revitalized on this recording.

To say the least, it's very strange to see a band that had basically been a footnote in another band's history for over thirty years show up and make the debut album that never happened in 1975. But Tom Petty has some experience making strange ideas work. The combination of Petty being in fine form, Campbell and Tench providing their usually solid support, and Leadon and Marsh taking full advantage of their long-delayed big break makes Mudcrutch a solid album. Petty fans will have no difficulty getting into this, and people looking for something new in a classic rock vein will find plenty to like as well.

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott

"Scare Easy"

"Lover of the Bayou"

1 comment:

Jim said...

I really enjoyed the first Mudcrutch album. It just has such a fresh sound- something that I haven't heard from Petty for a while. Don't get me wrong, I love most Tom Petty songs, but it seems he kind of lost his energy during the last couple of albums. I really enjoyed "Highway Companion", especially because of his work with Jeff Lynne, but it did seem to lack the sparkle of this Mudcrutch album.

I'm glad the album did well, but I do have to say that I don't agree with the repackaging of the album. I always feel like I'm not getting the whole picture when I buy an album, especially after Petty came out with that expanded edition of "Highway Companion" a few months after the initial release.


The Laptop Sessions Cover Songs